When the Killing's Done – TC Boyle

‘And dogshit wrapped in neat little plastic bags. Does that drive her crazy? Yes it does. That people should take something natural, waste, feces (sic), the end product of an animal process, and seal it in plastic for future archaeologists to unearth from landfill in a thousand years is pure madness. This world. This skewered and doomed world.’

TC (Thomas Coraghessan) Boyle is one weird geezer. He looks weird and from all reports, behaves weirdly too – an eccentric, perhaps, with his slick looks and flamboyant dress. This professor of literature, for the University of Southern California, is well known around the traps for the equally flamboyant readings he gives. He’s a latter day Dickens.

He’s pushing up towards seventy now, this oh-so-cool dude, with a literary legacy that will mark him, in future years, not only as a one-off, but also a true great of turn of the millennium literature. He has been described as a maximalist novelist – one who eschews the simplicity of style advocated by many notables of last century – the warriors who put the American Dream into print. We are now in a new age, a complex age, with Boyle reflecting that. He is as flamboyant in his prose as he is in everything else – but here’s the rub. Although the reader may not have discovered previously in print a whole plethora of the magical sounding words he divines from who knows where and litters his oeuvre with, we know immediately their meaning – no need to go rushing off to dictionaries. It’s all explained in the context. He is amazing, his output so varied in narrative, but always so seductive in reeling the reader into each novel’s web.

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And ‘When the Killing’s Done’ is no exception. The opening paragraph to this opinion piece on the tome is of an Alma Boyd Takesure rumination on one of her early morning beach perambulations. And it is a pet (pun intended) peeve of mine, this nonsense of wrapping up canine crap, particularly when it’s taken to the ridiculous extreme, such as on our island’s gorgeous beaches. Here dogs may be permitted to run as free as the breeze, just as long as we follow the firm instructions on some rusting signage to clean up after them – with bags conveniently provided. On Bondi I see the point, but on our strands, where humans are rarely in mass numbers, it’s quite frankly ridiculous.

Alma is an environmental fixer-upperer of islands, those set in that same archipelago, off the Southern Californian coast, as Boyle’s subsequent offering, ‘San Miguel’. She works for the National Parks Service, tasked with clearing those isles of their feral populations, restoring them to pristine condition. But to her arch-enemy, Dave la Joy, any form of culling is an anathema. He’s a rabid greenie – as far left in that activist grouping as it’s possible to be. He will stop at nothing to protect every living organism on those islands, come hell or high water – and the latter figures prominently. He does not stop even at introducing fresh feral species to confound Alma and her crew. At first I read this character with disbelief. Could there be people around so madly fervent in their obsessions as to be unhinged? His main squeeze, Anise, a child of the islands, seems to put up with him almost to the end – I suppose it helps that Dave isn’t a short of a crust, being a successful businessman, owning a chain of profitable stores. But such is Boyle’s skill in the telling, in an odd way, I ended up liking this cove who obviously wasn’t the full shilling. He’s one of the author’s more out-there creations.

Even if the ending of the book didn’t unravel in the direction it seemed to me to be heading, in that sanity is eventually restored (not really a spoiler), it didn’t seem to detract. Boyle claims he places immense thought into the conclusions to his tales, but is open-minded about them till he actually gets there – or so he says. This could have gone either way.

Boyle is not a mega-seller here, although some of us may have seen the movie version of his ‘Road to Wellville’, based on a cereal king. Nonetheless he is well worth a library borrowing just to get a taste of what this unique wordsmith is all about.


TC’s website = http://www.tcboyle.com/

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